Wednesday, July 30, 2008

fight on derrick!

Please visit Fight On, the blog of fellow prizefighter, Derrick, and leave him a word of encouragement.

He is in the heart of the stem cell transplant process for Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) at Sloan right now. In fact, our rooms were only a few doors apart. Today marks day +7, one week since he received his donor's life saving cells.

We're thinking of you, Derrick! Give cancer hell!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

day +345

I feel considerably better right now, but several hours ago I wasn't all too well. I think I may have upset my GVHD by exposing myself to too much UV light this morning.

During the past several days, I've been thinking a bit. Thinking about what I'm going to do now that the trip has been canceled. I have some thoughts about this, but I'll save them for another post. For a few days, I was in a bit of funk not doing a whole lot but as has happened in the past, I returned to my camera. Moreover, I rededicated myself to the principles that I described in my recent post, "Rolling With It."

Late Friday afternoon I walked to the recently opened Lou Gehrig Plaza, which is just a hop and a skip from where I live. A few days prior, I had thought that it might be a great place from which to capture a panoramic shot of the area and so, I went to try it out on Friday. The fact that the humidity had been very low recently also encouraged me to experiment. I was not disappointed. This afternoon the clouds were amazingly animated.

All sorts of kinetic activity was playing out above. I just wish I had captured more foreground in the photograph. I'm planning to go back to do just that once the high temperatures, which have returned, cool down some.

My photographic adventures continued.

Before dawn, I made my first visit to Randall's Island on Sunday in the hope of capturing a spectacular panoramic sunrise over the Harlem River. For months, I had planned to make it over there but never did. As a result, I was pretty pumped up for this early morning visit. Standing on the northwestern end of the island (looking towards Harlem and the Bronx), one sees the Triborough Lift Bridge to the left, which is covered partially in an enormous sheet due to renovation work and to the right is the Willis Avenue Bridge.

View Larger Map

The weather was warm and breezy. While I waited for the first break of light, fierce lighting began to pierce the cloudy pre-dawn sky. The prospect of photographing lightening at sunrise filled me with great excitement. For starters, I had never photographed lightening before and secondly, such a unique shot from Randall's Island I thought would be the coolest thing. Soon after, however, the clouds began to thicken and then, blanketed the area. Rain began to fall intermittently. Sometimes there was a quick shower and at other moments, it came down in buckets. Thankfully, I had brought my umbrella along otherwise I would have been in serious trouble. Waiting patiently beside my tripod on the island's rocky shore, I was hoping that the rain and clouds would pass and give way to a brilliantly colorful sunrise, but it wasn't meant to be. It was way too cloudy and the moment for that spectacular show in the sky had passed. I did manage to photograph the river and the bridges after the rain had cleared, but the scene was gray and unappealing.

I left disappointed, but I'm encouraged by the fact that I am a bit more familiar with the island now and as a result, I should be better prepared for my next try. If done well, I think this shot will rock.

Early this morning I went to Inwood Hill Park, which contains the last natural forest and salt marsh, in Manhattan. I've been there several times since starting this project. I had hoped to see ergets, which I know populate the salt marsh during this time of the year, but none appeared. However, I was fortunate to capture some of the many geese and ducks that congregate in the morning.

From the park, I went to nearby Wave Hill Public Garden, which I have visited at least once a month ever since my first visit there in April. Until starting this project, I didn't have an interest in capturing flowers but that changed rather quickly. Not only have my visits to Wave Hill spurred a greater appreciation for the subtle beauty of flowers and plants, but I've also learned a great deal about how best to photograph them. After photographing a particular flower, for example, I look for its identifying tag and write its common and scientific names into a small black book in which I've recorded the details of all of my project's treks.

This photograph of a frog is my favorite from Wave Hill today.

Though my visits to Inwood Hill Park and Wave Hill were enjoyable, I made the stubborn mistake of spending too much time outside where I think I was exposed to too much sunlight. The temperature was in the low 70s while I was at Inwood Hill Park, but by the late morning it had climbed into the 80s. At Wave Hill, I spent most of my time outside wandering amidst its lovely gardens.

Before leaving home, I had covered my exposed areas with ample sunblock SPF 40 and wore a 3/4 length baseball jersey shirt to cover my arms and a baseball cap for my head. Though protected, I was outside probably for two hours more than I should have been. Feeling fatigued when I left Wave Hill, when I got home I was exhausted. Moreover, for the first time in many months I had diarrhea though it is very mild. Of course, I don't know if the diarrhea is the consequence of an aggravated GVHD caused by over sun exposure, but it might be. My stomach, which had begun to feel unsettled last night, also wasn't right.

This afternoon I called Dr. C-M's office and spoke to Alli about what had happened. The diarrhea may be related to the GVHD or it may not be. My Tacrolimus dosage may need to be increased, she stated. I'm scheduled to go to clinic on Thursday for a blood draw at which time some more tests may be done to address this new issue.

Friday, July 25, 2008

cancer news

'Last Lecture' Professor Dies of Cancer

in the news

Hudson Valley Views

Showdown Over Packing Heat in National Parks

Too Big to Fail?

Nuclear Power A Thorny Issue for Candidates

Bumpy Road Ahead for Next President on Mideast Peace

Mideast Sees More of the Same if Obama Is Elected

Obamamania Grips Europe

Playing Innocent Abroad

Bush Signs "Russert Highway" Into Law

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

day +339

Since starting the new medications and increasing my Tacrolimus dosage, all the signs of GVHD but the dark patches on my face have improved. Parts of the bottom of my feet remain numb, but it's a bit better than before.

I'm supposed to go down to Sloan tomorrow morning for a blood draw and hopefully, that should be that until my appointment on the 7th.

Monday, the 21st, marked eleven months post-transplant.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

rolling with it

*** I started to compose this post on Tuesday, the day after my checkup, but it turned into something a lot more thorough than I had expected. Rather than just post what I had typed after a day or two, I decided to work with it. As a consequence, this post is the organic production of almost daily reflection and typing. This is why I hadn't posted an update about this past Monday's appointment until now. In making this post, I've thought about a number of things. I could write more probably but I will stop for now.

Monday's diagnosis was mild chronic GVHD. This is the cause of the dark patches on my cheeks and forehead, the discoloration and change in the smoothness of my gums, and the bumps on my lower lip and penis which have all appeared just within in the past two weeks. Though a manifestation of GVHD on the genitals is uncommon, Dr. C-M said, it does happen in both men and women. My feet's achiness is really numbness and that he said is a result of the tapering of the Tacrolimus. It's neuropathy, I was told, but I had no idea that neuropathy can be associated with immunosuppressives. Chemo, yes! But with Tacrolimus, I had no clue. If I continue to reduce the Tacrolimus dosage as had been planned, he told me that it's very likely that the dark patches will cover more and more of my body and the problem will worsen. As a consequence, the dosage was bumped up to 2mL, which is where it was several months ago. The hope is that the rashes and neuropathy will be alleviated.

So, what does this mean for my trip which is less than four weeks away? Scuttled. That's right. It's no more. The appearance of GVHD, Dr. C-M explained, means that they'll need to see me more often which renders a seven week absence impossible. I was banking on the plan that called for an end to the Tacrolimus on August 4th - just 6 days before my departure for Niagara Falls - which would mean that I would be free of the burden of lugging around a liquid bottle (that needs refrigeration) around. More bothersome was worrying about how I was going to refill the prescription during such a long absence. Clearly, this scenario would have been too difficult on the road. So, the logistics rested heavily on the status of the Tacrolimus by the time of my departure. I bet that as long as I was off the immunosuppressive by the 6th and was feeling well, that I'd be fine. But it didn't work out that way.

GVHD or Graft-Versus-Host Disease chose this most inopportune moment to announce "surprise!" But Dr. C-M did caution me a few months ago that as my Tacrolimus dosage continued to be reduced, it was possible that GVHD may present itself. I believe it was at my appointment in May when he told me to be on the look out for any changes in my skin's completion, most notably dark patches or what stunned me the most: white patches. "Like Michael Jackson!" he reiterated. I remember just being shocked when I heard about the possibility that my skin could change so dramatically. This is called hypopigmentation.

Before I went ahead with the allo, I was well aware of the risks posed by GVHD, which is what happens when the donor's immune cells attack the host's body because it recognizes it as foreign. Now this is exactly what the T-cells are supposed to do: find and root out those entities that don't belong. I was told repeatedly by many that GVHD itself isn't a bad thing necessarily. In fact, the whole point of the allo is to achieve what is called the Graft-Versus-Tumor or Graft-Versus-Lymphoma Effect in which the donor's T-cells recognize and destroy any rogue cancer cells remaining in my body. It is this - the Graft-Versus-Tumor Effect - that the whole allo is centered upon. A little GVHD isn't bad I've been told. It's a clear sign that my donor's cells are working. However, there's a fine line between good GVHD and bad GVHD. Too much GVHD can be very a frightening matter that is to be avoided at all costs.

I did not receive a T-cell depleted transplant in which the donor's T-cells are removed in order to avoid the possible problems associated with GVHD. But on the other hand, my new immune system has sprung back quite well. My blood counts are robust and a few months ago I began the reimmunization process. It can take longer for blood counts to recover after a T-cell depleted transplant.

So, the risk of developing GVHD has always been there. Its sudden awakening after months of slumber just came at a crappy time.

I asked my medical team if I should be worried to which they responded no. It's mild, localized and the aim of boosting the immunosuppresive dosage is to try to keep it that way. Prolonged sun exposure is troublesome for GVHD, so I'm behooved to cover myself well and minimize my time outside when it's sunny. I received two prescriptions to deal with the bumps and discoloration: Hydrocortisone cream for my penis and Dexamethasone for my gums.

This new turn of events requires me return to Sloan on Monday for a blood draw. I'm scheduled to see my doctor again in early August.

I'm surprised at how well I took the news that I'd be unable to travel. I would have thought that I would have tried to negotiate a more favorable terms of surrender, but I didn't. I just listened - listlessly and wide-eyed - and resigned to my doctor's announcement. Despite my wishes, I knew that his decision was the most prudent choice. Even before this disappointing news, I had become worried increasingly about my numb feet. "With my feet at less than 100%, how could I possibly embark on such a physically demanding trip?" I began to wonder. I needed to be ready for all the great walking and hiking that I planned to do. Who wants to go on such a marvelous trip fatigued? As many of you know, I'm not one who shies away from long, exhaustive walks or nine mile rides on my stationary bike. I love to be active and out there.

I spent part of Tuesday afternoon reviewing all the reservations that I had made and prepared to see if I could get refunds.

When I first told Eileen about my scuttled trip, I joked that Someone (or perhaps Something) doesn't want me to go. I don't believe that of course. I don't think. . . .

For the most part, I have tried always to put the best foot forwards and to be frank, I think I've been pretty damn good at it. To quote brash Denzel Washington in Training Day:

"King Kong ain't got shit on me!"

This fall will mark five years since my diagnosis and still, I haven't quite been able to shake its shadow off me. The fruitful years of my 20s, which can never be recovered, are passing right by my eyes. At times, I feel as if I've missed out on certain things. I'm tired of dealing with this cancer crap. I am tired, but I'm pushing on and some times I don't know how or why I'm doing it but I do. In moments of doubt or frustration, I have from time to time had some terrible ideas. Yet, I love life too much to entertain these flickering thoughts of darkness. If anything, the disappointment surrounding my canceled trip just reminds me of who isn't in charge but then again, are we ever?

I was looking forward very much to traveling. I had it all planned out. The maps and guide books remain piled in the corner of my bedroom. My equipment and some of my clothing are resting next to them. I was thrilled about seeing all these places for the first time: Niagara Falls and Toronto, Glacier and Olympia National Parks, Seattle's dynamic city life and Safeco Field, Vancouver and Victoria, the Oregon Coast and Crater Lake National Park. The pictures . . . I can't tell you how excited I was to photograph all these amazing places, in particular Glacier and the Washington and Oregon coasts. I also was thrilled about the idea (an idea that had been floating in my head for several months) of giving framed photographs from my travels to those, who have been so instrumental to my family and me during these past five years. I thought this would be a beautiful gesture of appreciation for all that they have done and continue to do.

For weeks, I had been immersing myself in travel guides and books imagining myself at these various locations. Memories of my visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Historical Society, where I have returned countless times over the past fifteen years to find an escape and solace in the majestic art of the Hudson River School artists, filled me with a great sense of awe as I prepared to travel to some of the very places where these masters found such inspirational sublimity.

As I prepared to rough it, it dawned upon me why I have looked upon the open road and these magnificent natural wonders with such yearning. A lot of it, I believe, has its roots in my innumerable visits to the city's art museums and others too, where as a teenager I became arrested by the enthralling beauty of landscape art. Though I enjoy all types of landscape art, America's most famous landscape movement - the Hudson River School - became an immediate favorite of mine and has remained so ever since. During the past 15 years, I have returned regularly to these museums to see their latest exhibitions. Though their Hudson River School galleries change rarely, except for the occasional big show, I've always tried to set aside some time to visit them when I'm in the museum. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, amongst its venerable halls of world art there remains no other part which continues to captivate me as its American Wing. It has endured as my favorite place. There, like no other part, can the stresses of the big city melt away and give way to the introspection, spaciousness, and just sheer humility that arouses after resting one's eyes on such uplifting masterpieces. The collective works of Cole, Church, and the other landscape geniuses have remained my own little refuge in this unpredictable and precarious world of ours. It's my house of worship. It's where I have I returned time and time again for resuscitation and to renew my faith in myself and in the goodness of this world.

"We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis."

In his work, Church reflected his belief that the splendor of this remarkable Pale Blue Dot was imbued with the Sublime. He strove to make a semblance of God's radiance and majesty palpable on canvas. It is in nature, he believed, that we can become more intimate with God and understand the eternal bond between Him and us. And so, our relationship with the cosmos is a sacred one forged as a result of God's miraculous Creation.

The religiosity of Church's work is clear. Although I don't share his spirituality, I respect it. I do feel strongly that humanity's intimate relationship with nature is both primordial and didactic. Contemplation about the meaning and future of our existence can't be complete without thinking seriously about how our imperfect but resourceful species fits within the workings of the cosmos. The Hudson River School artists were geniuses at creating the space for such soul searching.

When I look at Niagara or Twilight in the Wilderness, for example, something powerful comes over me. For lack of a better phrase, call it a religious experience. Mesmerized, I look in awe at their august beauty comforted and inspired to face the world again.

I recall that during my autologous stem cell transplant I managed to find some sense of tranquility when I looked through the pages of my Hudson River School books in the hospital. There was a brief period during the transplant when I was unable to read a newspaper or enjoy television, but I was able to look at art. In some small way, those transcendent images rejuvenated my spirit during the toughest days.

Before I joined Barbra and a few friends to see the Met's grand new exhibition of the British master, J.M.W. Turner, on Friday evening, I spent about an hour beforehand exploring a part of the American Wing that I visit rarely. This part has the feel of an old, dimly lit attic that rarely receives visitors. It's the depository for colonial and early American furniture, wares, and portraiture mostly. However, this time I was forced make my way through its silent, narrow labyrinth-like corridors in order to reach the main part of the wing where the Churchs and Remingtons, Homers and Eakins, Hassams and Sargents rest in eternal glory. But to my disappointment, I found out that the main gallery was still closed due to renovation and as a result, just a few of these gems were on display. Some of them in fact were right there around me in the narrow corridors of all that drab seventeenth century furniture.

I had time to burn before meeting Barbra and her friends at 7:30, so I figured I'd stay down here to see what Hudson River School works I'd find. Walking leisurely through the almost empty gallery, I listened to music on my iPod which I had never done before. I saw at least two Churchs, a few Durands, a couple of Homers, and I think at least one Eakins. Oh, there were a few Remingtons and Hassams as well. I saw some other artists whose names I don't recall too. Nevertheless, as I walked slowly pass each canvas, many of which depicted breathtaking scenes reminiscent of a tourism ad, I began to well up. It hit me. I wasn't going to celebrate my one year anniversary in the heart of Glacier as I had hoped. All those triumphant looking photos that I had imagined of myself weren't going to be. I wasn't going to see the glorious Pacific coast. I don't know if it was the power of the music in combination with the beauty of the art, but whatever it was I felt the sorrow. I felt it hard.

Besides my introduction to the Hudson River School, another transformative period for me was the Watson. This amazing fellowship spoiled me with the awesome privilege of traveling to eight countries during one year at age 22. The experience was infectious. It left me with an unbridled wanderlust and an impassioned belief that through travel but more specifically, vagabonding, people can find great inner strength, hope, and connectedness with the world in which we all share.

"That is the charm of a map. It represents the other side of the horizon where everything is possible."

I was about to write that I have never felt as free, as strong, as bold, as curious, as open, and as engaged as I did during that magical year abroad, but I don't think that is completely accurate. Fresh out of college and with grant money in my pockets, I traversed each country with a remarkable degree of fluidity and eagerness to learn and be challenged. I reveled in the experience. I was on such an exploratory high. Yet, when I reflect over how I've been able to remain stimulated and hopeful during the challenges of the past five years, I think that perhaps this may be my finest hour. Indeed, during these past eleven months I've done a pretty good job at channeling some of that indomitable Watson spirit into my exploratory treks around the Harlem River and the city. Like a Watson, I heard a voice from within calling for a challenge. I listened, took that first step, and found something amazing right under my nose. Rather than being thousands of miles away in an exotic land, my restorative and eye-opening adventures were in my own backyard.

It's this insatiable curiosity that explains why I'm also so fascinated by space. I've always been like this. Like many starry-eyed children, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut one day. I've always looked up and wondered how and why. Like the distant coasts and mountains, space - a unconquerable vastness so far removed from the sterility of daily life - has for me always rested in my imagination as a place of unfettered possibility. Though unforgiving and harsh, space, like the open expanses of this remarkable but fragile little planet, offers the hope of renewal . . . of regeneration . . . of rebirth. It is where we go, despite the obstacles, to find meaning.

The heavens are so much larger than ourselves that contemplation of its infinite wonder takes us away (if only for a second) from the seemingly drab commonality of daily existence. It allows us to step outside our finite minds for a moment and to reflect upon the miracle that is life . . . whether here or elsewhere and how we as individuals and as a species share in this rich cosmic fabric. So at least, this is what I've believed it to be. It's this beautiful ideal which I know explains in part my wanderlust . . . my yearning to out there and not here. Doesn't the outside always look more pleasant than inside? Out there, the human will can't be shackled. It can't be contained. The possibilities are endless. The potential is unfathomable. It is only our inability to not imagine, to not dare, to not question, to not seek change that will stop us from going on. It is this lack of urgency . . . this satisfaction for complacency that retards our growth and perfection.

Or perhaps I've just eaten too much apple pie, listened to too many "I Have a Dream" speeches, and watched too many recordings of the Moon landing. Perhaps I'm the unfortunate sap, who has been duped by too much American "can do" retailing. Just perhaps.

I am guilty of that ancient youthful naiveté: hapless romanticism.

Perhaps I'm the sole one at fault here for being too impatient, too hopeful, too bold, too reckless. Perhaps it would have been wisest for me to have stored my dreams in mothballs. Perhaps it would have been best to have waited passively for the moment when I saw that heralded emblem in the sky, which signaled that it was time to resurrect my dreams once again. Maybe that would have been best. But such timidity isn't me. I want to be out there grabbing the reigns of life despite the precariousness of my situation.

Remember this is the same guy, who feeling that somehow he had what it took, went ahead and applied to compete in a nationally televised game show months after completing cancer treatment. This is the same guy, who after getting a splenectomy and while receiving months of chemotherapy, managed to juggle a full course load of studies and completed his master's thesis on time at one of the nation's top universities. This is the same guy, who only a few months after his second transplant, pulled himself outside and in the process stumbled upon a hobby that has opened up new opportunities in the months since then.

I'm not a quitter. I know I'm not. However, I have been forced to resign to the facts of the moment. Yes, it's too bad about the trip but most importantly, I'm alive. I'm here. I'm functioning. I'm blessed with an enormous amount of love and support from so, so many. Despite my difficulties, I'm lucky. Though bruised, I've managed to roll with it. I've managed to press on. Through all of this, I've learned that I'm an amazingly resourceful person. Too many, unfortunately, don't have the opportunity to do the same.

Late Friday afternoon as I walked to Union Square to catch to subway to go to Met, I was heavy in thought. I was thinking about the setbacks caused by my health, but then I paused and thought about the regal grace of my oldest sister, Dawn. Here I was - amidst the bustle and treasures of one of the world's great metropolises admiring the city's gorgeous women as they passed by - while my innocent, beautiful sister remained fastened to a bed as she has been since birth. Though she has never had the opportunity to experience one percent of the bounty of blessings that I have had and that life should bestow on us all, she radiates. She shines like no other I know. And what was I doing? Moping about my blessings. The sudden realization of my ungratefulness about a life that has been wonderful despite cancer made me feel petty and weak as I thought about the unconscionable suffering of my sister and the millions elsewhere who carry such unimaginable burdens. Feeling diminutive and disappointed in my own narrow-mindedness, I cried amidst the bustle of the great city.

With elegance and laughter, Dawn just rolls with it. I must roll with it too.

I'm reminded of a passage that I read in Slaughterhouse-Five recently, which seems appropriate to share here:

What the Englishman said about survival was this: "If you stop taking pride in your appearance, you will very soon die." He said that he had seen several men die in the following way: "They ceased to stand up straight, then ceased to shave or wash, then ceased to get out of bed, then ceased to talk, then died. There is this much to be said for it: it is evidently a very easy and painless way to go."

One of the memorable clips from Yankee lore that was shown during the broadcast of Tuesday's All-Star game was of the great Lou Gehrig, who in concluding his famous farewell address said:

"So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Looking forward, I know I'll be alright as long as I hang on to the enthusiasm, grit, and hope that has taken me this far.

latest hodge blog

My Lymphoma Story

cast your vote for pat

Pat Pedraja, a leukemia survivor and passionate advocate for the National Marrow Donor Registry, is nominated for the 2008 Teen Choice Award. Through Driving For Donors, this remarkable kid has helped to add at least 7,000 donors to the NMDP Registry.

Please cast your vote for Pat here. And remember, you can vote multiple times!

The winner will be announced on August 4th on FOX.


If you haven't done so already, please go ahead and support the SeventyK campaign for the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Bill of Rights. You can join almost 4,000 people, who have voiced their support for this undeserved community.

Please spread the words to family and friends.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

yankee stadium

Tuesday night was the 79th MLB All-Star game and this year the historic Yankee Stadium was the hosting venue for the final time.

Check out ESPN Zoom, which offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Yankee Stadium!

I love baseball. As a Yankee fan living no more than 4 blocks east of the stadium, I've been very interested in the news surrounding this celebrated event. It was certain that there would be a great deal of buzz in the press surrounding this summer's interleague contest. I haven't been disappointed. During the days leading up to and following the All-Star game, I searched the Web for stories and articles about the game, the stadium, the nearby community and the Bronx. There's quite a bit out there.

After reading each story, I transfer and then, save it in a word document before archiving it in a folder which has been set aside for all topics relevant to my Harlem River Bridges Project. Yankee Stadium sits only a few blocks back from the Harlem River and the nearby Macombs Dam Bridge.

I have been most interested in reading about my community's views of the impact that the All-Star Game might have on them as well as how they feel about the new stadium that is scheduled to open in April 2009. It's apparent that the community is divided about it.

An estimated $1.3 billion is being spent on the new stadium's construction and the public has been forced to subsidize a significant portion of that cost. At the same time that the Yankees organization is washing itself in loads of unprecedented cash, my community remains one of the poorest Congressional districts in the country. The disenchantment between the community and the Steinbrenner family isn't new, however. It has been going on for decades and this is only the latest chapter in this seemingly endless soap opera. Some of my oldest neighbors look warily at the remarkable changes that have taken place in nearby Harlem and believe that a similar wave of gentrification is about to set foot in the South Bronx when the Yankees' new palatial home is completed. To them, this huge influx of capital and political will is part of a larger, more sinister scheme in which the ultimate aim is to force out the local residents and small businesses, who would be pressed hard to remain with higher rents and property value.

On the other hand, others hope that the new stadium will help to spur a renaissance for local businesses while also improving the quality of life for its residents. The city has renovated the Grand Concourse, the main thoroughfare nearby Yankee Stadium, and improved some of the adjacent roads. It has promised to construct a new Metro-North station nearby, which will help to alleviate traffic in the area, especially during games, and provide the residents which another means of transportation. A new shopping district, hotel, school, and new parkland are also included in the plans of what is called the Yankee Stadium Redevelopment Project.

Advocates of the project argue that its ambitious scope will do a lot of good in trying to improve the lives of those in the community while helping to restore a more attractive image of the Bronx. The project's opponents feel that as in the past the Yankees and the city's politicians have offered empty promises to the community for the advantage of big business and all of those who attend the games, most of whom aren't from the area. This Trojan horse, they believe, will lead to even more hardship, suspicion, and alienation between the Yankees and the community.

I'm a huge Yankees fan. I love their history and the tradition of the team. The Yankees, like no other American sports team, personifies greatness and class. The names - Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, Maris, Jackson, Jeter, Rivera, and countless others - say it all. And Yankee Stadium remains without doubt the most historic arena in the history of American sports and remarkably, it's right in my backyard. As someone said, it's our Colosseum. However, my admiration for the team's unprecedented success doesn't mean that I'm unaware or condone the unscrupulous practices of its front office.

Like some of my neighbors, I see the warning signs in the information surrounding the new ballpark. There will be about 4,500 less seats and to top it off, they'll be even more expensive than today's. More seats for the corporate guys, but less for the average Joe. The Yankees have achieved the highest attendance ratings in baseball for the past several years and many of their home games are sold out. What does this mean for the average fan, who struggles to take his or her family to a game right now, let alone the thousands of people in the neighborhood who can only dream about attending one. Food and beverages at the concession stands are ridiculously priced. Finally, according to reports, the city and the Yankees have not fulfilled their promises to replace in a timely manner all the parkland that was lost in the construction of the new stadium.

I'm hopeful but cautious. There's a lot of potential. If done right, I think this project could achieve significant improvements for the area and help to weaken the antiquated claim that this is a place to be avoided. The neighborhood too must be held responsible and it needs to clean up its own act. People need to stop going around and finding fault with everyone else for their own ills. If people don't care about how and where they live, why should anyone else. Some of the responsibility does indeed fall on my community too.

To learn more, check these out:

Destroying the High Temple in the Bronx

Rip-Off In the Bronx

Some in South Bronx Feel Left Behind By MLB

Now Bronx Is Yearning for Respect

The Bronx Is Booming, but Not for All, Report Finds

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Blooming - and Bursting with Gardens, Birds and Parks

Sunday, July 13, 2008

beautifying da bronx

Friday evening was the opening night of the art exhibition in City Island. Back in the day, we used to travel there via car but this time we took the subway and bus. It turned out to be about a 45 minute trip which is quite good. My mom, sister and her friend met us later that night after work.

There in the gallery, my two photographs were hung amidst dozens of other impressive art work. The show is composed of mostly photographs, some paintings and a few sculptures. The subject material of the works are quite diverse, but a significant proportion of them focuses on the Bronx. Rick, who was instrumental in me participating in the show, and his wife exhibited wonderful panoramas of City Island. One Bronx native concentrated on water lilies taken at Wave Hill Public Garden and the New York Botanical Gardens. Another artist captured the historical heritage of the borough's Belmont section as well as areas of Chile, which he visits annually. One gentleman, whose interest is comic books, had two large paintings - one of Superman and the other of the Joker - which were inspired by the works of well-known comic book illustrators. Another person photographed nude women and someone else worked with paper mache. This is just a sample of the diversity.

Of the two, Bronx Stars received more WOWs but people were also impressed to learn that the beautiful Lorelei Fountain is found right in the Da Bronx. Da Bronx? Huh? Can such beauty exist in what someone once described to me as a "dump"? Yep . . . and there's more. Rick was the first to tell me that he thought the Lorelei Fountain was taken in Rome or some other European capital. Knowing that I had traveled throughout Italy during the Watson, he thought I had taken the photograph abroad. But interestingly, that had never crossed my mind. But I heard similar responses by a few people on Friday. I took this to be a huge compliment. It made me feel that I was on to something. It was a sign, I believe, that I was capturing some of the unknown beauty of my borough and highlighting it in such a positive way that it made people pause. If I'm able to achieve that pause, then I know I'm doing something right. And although I didn't intend to set out on a mission to beautify Da Bronx, it seems like that is exactly what I'm doing.

Thursday morning, I took this photograph which I titled Triplets. Again, I think it would surprise many people to learn that such a pastoral scene can be found uptown. Yep . . . and there's more like it.

After looking through my portfolio and telling me that my work was good for someone who has been shooting only since November, Ron, the gallery owner, encouraged me to become a member of the Bronx Council of the Arts. He went on to tell me that the BCOA has a grant program for Bronx artists called the BRIO or Bronx Recognizes Its Own and that I should apply. There's nothing to lose. Pick a theme, such as bridges, he said and go for it. If I don't get it, then try again.

I made some interesting contacts that night and got to experience a little of the outer borough art scene. BronxNet, one the local cable stations, covered the event and I and a few of the artists there were interviewed. It is supposed to air tomorrow. I hope to record it and if so, I'll post the video. The Bronx Times was there as well. This show continues until early August. I'll be notified if anyone purchases my work. The next open show is around Christmas. I will try to exhibit again then.

Finally, I see Dr. C-M tomorrow for my next checkup. I'm not worried about tomorrow's appointment, but it's apparent to me that my body is undergoing some rapid changes. I believe that I may be witnessing the appearance of GVHD for the first time.

For about a little over a week, a few strange blister-like bumps tinged with a slight bluish hue (though painless) have been on the crown of my penis. I showed them to my GP, who confessed that he didn't know what they were. He went ahead with the customary HIV and syphilis tests, which proved negative of course. On Friday as I was in the bathroom preparing for the art show, I noticed that darkened patches had appeared on my cheek bones and forehead. In addition, areas of my gums have turned bluish, which are very similar in color to the bumps on my penis and those on my bottom lip. My feet also have been achy recently and I don't feel it's related to the ingrown toe nail.

A few months ago, Dr. C-M cautioned me that GVHD may begin to appear as I continued to taper my Tacrolimus dosage. He told me to be on the look out for any changes in the color of my skin, such as darkened patches. Tomorrow I'm scheduled to reduce the dosage to .5ml and then, stop it all together on August 4th.

The recent changes that I listed above may be something different all together, but I have a feeling its GVHD. I'll show him tomorrow and see what he says. Naturally, I'm wondering what this may do to my trip.

cancer news

U.S. Swimmer Makes Tough Choice to Compete

Bobby Mercer, 62, Yankee on Field and Air, Dies

Tony Snow, Former Bush Spokesman, Dies at 53

new hodgkin's blog

Jennifer's Hodgkin's

in the news

Shout Out in the Bronx

Signs of Life at Neglected Bronx Park

Suddenly, a Sculptor

Philadelphia Museum Shaped Early American Culture

Sarkozy's Club Med

The Audacity of Listening

Obama Supporters on the Far Left Cry Foul

Chang Inducted into Tennis Hall of Fame

Michael DeBakey, Rebuilder of Hearts, Dies at 99

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

a cheerful mind

Late yesterday morning the surgery to remove the ingrown toe nail was done. Still swollen somewhat from the localized anesthesia, my right big toe is wrapped neatly in bandages worthy of the pharaohs. Surprisingly, however, my big toe feels fine. I was given a prescription of pain killers, but if it continues to feel as it does right now I may not need to take any.

On my way back from a couple errands that I had to run downtown, I noticed that the haze had lifted and the blue sky that had been missing for days was appearing once again. Feeling like the conditions were such that I couldn't pass them by, I decided that I should go on a brief shoot that evening. For perhaps two weeks, I had contemplated about how cool it would to be get a long exposure capture of the traffic on and around the Alexander Hamilton Bridge. From the Bronx side of the neighboring Washington Bridge, one can imagine how at night the labyrinth of lanes around and under it could make for a terrific shot of flashing streaks.

So, I went ahead and tried.

The traffic was lighter than I hoped. I thought that although it was about 8:45 at night, this is a city and the traffic would be fairly strong, but it wasn't. Nevertheless, for my first time it's not bad. But I think it can be a bit better. It's not uncommon for me to go to the same location a couple of times before I feel like I've captured it just right. I'd like to try this exact shot again in the winter when there's no haze and twilight coincides with rush hour. So far in my experience, that seems to be ideal time for these types of shots.

This Friday evening I'll have two photographs for sale in an art exhibition in the City Island section of the Bronx. Here they are:

Lorelei Fountain

Bronx Stars

This will be my first time exhibiting there and only my second time exhibiting anywhere. It should be fun. I look forward to meeting the other artists participating in the show and seeing their work. Though it would be great to see someone purchase one of them, I'm really interested in hearing feedback from the people in attendance.

Finally, thanks for your thoughtful and encouraging comments regarding Sunday's post. I feel like I'm in a period of transition that's strange and uncertain but also hopeful and restorative. Wondering about the outcome of the transplant during the weeks before I was admitted, the anxiety was more stark: life or death. Will I make it out alive? And if so, to what degree? Will life ever be "normal" afterwards? A little secret of mine that I haven't shared until today is that amongst the various reasons (some foreseen and others not so) for why I created this blog (almost three years ago) is that if I died, I wanted there to be a written record of my own story . . . of a my own journey. The prizefighter's journey. Death's presence is still there, but isn't it for us all? That is the impermanence of life, all life. I don't think about it nearly as much as I did eleven months ago, but I do think about it from time to time.

It is fair to say that so far in my recovery I've done exceptionally well. At almost eleven months post-transplant there remains great hope that I will beat this sucker for good (finally) and this upcoming trip of mine is a celebration of that.

But as I expressed a bit in my last post, recently I've gotten down on myself, mired in my thoughts, as I feel like I should be doing this and that, but I'm not and so, I feel frustrated. My concerns aren't circling around life or death like before, but rather are focused on where am I today. Where am I going? What do I want? And who the hell am I after all this cancer shit? Am I the same person or am I different and if so, how? What needs to be changed? What can't I tolerate any more? What can't I live without? I'm trying to process all of this, which is a lot and can't be done in a day. My therapist and I have spent significant time addressing these feelings.

I'm 28 years old. I've been home living with my folks for over a year now after a year of living on my own in Chicago. For most of the past ten months, I've been locked inside, finding an escape through photography and trying to keep myself busy with other hobbies, while waiting for the day when my doctor gave me the green light. Missing the intellectual stimulation of school, I've tried though at times unsuccessfully, to keep that light aflame. Most restrictions have been lifted now and I'm well enough to travel. It's amazing really. That green light is almost before me. Yet I remain unsure and perhaps somewhat frightened by the next move. Like a child, on many matters I've become used to the passivity of being told what the next step is by others, but if my recovery continues to improve I'll be the one who will obliged to make that next big move. This realization is both liberating but also scary. I have no idea what I'll be doing when I return from the West Coast. I'm still clueless as to what I want to do. But I need to remind myself that this sense of misdirection is ok. If I wish, I could harp on my restlessness about the future or I can choose to look at this as a coveted opportunity. I'm blessed with this luxury of time right now and choices about what the future may be. Cancer sucks for many reasons, but if there's one good thing it is that it has given me the space to take stock of where I am and where I may want to go. In addition, I'm fortunate that I have parents, who have had no problems whatsoever with me staying home as I've recovered and who have encouraged my explorations into photography and other activities. They haven't rushed me to leave the nest (yet). At a time when I'm not working or in school, this is indeed a fortunate thing. Just look at the spike in last month's unemployment numbers to be reminded how so. This has been my sabbatical from cancer.

I'm so lucky really. I told this to someone recently and he scoffed at the idea. Knowing my long and difficult treatment history, it's no surprise why he cringed. But when I described myself as lucky, I wasn't thinking about the cancer but rather how well my recovery has gone. When I think about the people, whom I know who have passed away during the past two years following transplantation or more generally, cancer, I know that it is a remarkable thing that I'm alive. When I also think about those, who have had such a difficult time following their transplants, I'm reminded again of how fortunate I have been. Like me, some of them had relapsed twice and had allos. I have no misgivings about the possibility that my situation may turn for the worst in an instant, but so far everything has gone very well. It is this keen awareness about how fragile life is and the hope that the worst is behind me that I decided to make this trip a reality now and not later.

There's so much for me to be thankful for. Note to self: keep a cheerful mind.

cancer news

A dear friend passed along this amazingly uplifting story about how a breast cancer survivor's blog has informed and given hope to so many others:

Fighting the Cancer a Mammogram Can't Catch

in the news

Power Failures

Is This the Same Barack Obama?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

day +322

Photography has been both an emotional and physical escape for me since transplantation. At a time when I was burdened by the unknown outcome of treatment and barred from interacting with most people, outdoor photography served as the perfect outlet. It propelled me to go outside and to interact with the world around me, but on my own terms. In my exploratory treks throughout the city, I found the space and independence that I couldn't find any where else during my recovery. Out there in the city that I grew up in and love, I became enthralled by this new hobby of mine that just months before had been an interest oscillating significance. I had found something that took me away from the worries of cancer (if only for an hour or two) that helped to focus my energy on something positive and creative. Out there I had the elbow room necessary to reflect. I was in need of time for me and for me alone. Duane time. I was learning new skills and had found a new medium of expression and focus. Out there in the city that I grew up in and love, I had discovered a new voice and new eyes.

It was out there alone (sometimes wearing a surgical mask and gloves) with my camera and tripod where I was able to recapture some semblance of the rugged individualism and the feeling that I possessed some form of control over my own destiny. It was out there that my sense of individualism, of adventure, of curiosity . . . some of the many characteristics that make me feel like myself . . . were resuscitated and maintained.

Even during winter's coldest days, I made an effort to visit some new area of the Bronx or Manhattan in the hope of photographing something fun. In fact, a good deal of my earliest experimenting took place during the winter months. For example, it was then that I tried long exposure photography for the first time and subsequently, worked to get better. I found the winter and fall to be wonderful times for experimenting, but I find myself struggling so far this summer.

The haze and humidity of the city has been a bummer. I just feel zapped many times when it's this uncomfortable. As a result, I'm not inclined to go outside many times or I'll curtail my photographic treks. I can get down on myself too at times, which I've been dealing with recently. It is at these moments when I really need to be outside photographing, but because of what I just explained many times I'll find myself home doing nothing and so, frustration sets in. This holiday weekend I felt like I really needed to be outside working on my bridge project, but I was discouraged to do so due in part because of the ubiquitous white haze that suffocated the city since Thursday. I was also just down on myself. In a bit of a funk.

I'm trying to get my act together before I leave for this much anticipated trip, but it has been challenging.

By mid-week, the weather is supposed to improve. I'm looking forward to capturing a new and interesting scene.

in the news

American Keeps Hot Dog-Eating Crown in Overtime

An American Family

New York Promotes the Bronx's Parks and Gardens

Causes for Alarm

American Energy Policy, Asleep at the Spigot

In Montana on the Fourth, a Barometer of Obama's Chances

New and Not Improved

US Candidates Practice Their U-Turns

Smallest Planet Shrinks in Size

One Last Trip to Open Hubble's Eyes Even Wider

Saturday, July 05, 2008

cancer news

In the summer issue of Cure, there are two very interesting articles about the beneficial rewards that exercise can have for cancer survivors.

Forward Motion

Good Behavior

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

day +318

The surgery that was scheduled to remove my ingrown toenail was postponed. It will take place this coming Monday instead.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

hodgeapalooza in boston

This past weekend was spent in Boston where I met and hung out with about 23 members of an online community group for Hodgkin's survivors and their families. People came from all over: Connecticut, Maine, California, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Kentucky, Mississippi, Washington, D.C, Nevada, and even as far away as Scotland.

It was a great weekend. After months and in some cases years of communicating online where we have found invaluable support and information from each other, we got together for the first time and spent the weekend enjoying some of the sites of Boston and Salem, Massachusetts. This was only my second trip out of Gotham in about 11 months. The day trip to Philadelphia a few months back to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition was my first.

Saturday's highlight was a Duck Tour of Boston and the Charles River. The guide, who was very entertaining, made countless jokes about my Yankees. He took every opportunity to remind us of the Red Sox's recent world titles, but it was in good humor.

Sunday was spent in Salem mostly, where I took a historical tour followed by enjoying a cookout with the others.

This Hodgeapalooza was an amazing success.

in the news

Summer and Smoke, an American Cauldron

Martian Soil Appears Able to Support Life

Firefox Aims for Download Record

Travelers Shift to Rail as Cost of Fuel Rises

Savoring Bargains at the American Pump

Anxious in America

Is That All There Is?

There has been quite a bit of buzz recently surrounding the Obama campaign's apparent shift from the progressive left to the center (or center-right depending on your point of view). Most observers acknowledge that such a strategic move is routine at this point in a presidential campaign. Most candidates (regardless of party) move towards the center in preparation for the fall contest ahead. However, for the thousands of Obama supporters, such as myself, who gravitated to his campaign's fresh and progressive message on the environment, government surveillance and abuse of civil liberties, and foreign policy months ago, his recent shift to more customary, Washingtonian positions is disconcerting. Even a bit disheartening. There's a lot of talk on the blogosphere and among the pundits that his center-right changes on some of these issues are vexing some of his most ardent supporters. Perhaps his campaign's shift is a temporary move and the more refreshing tone of his primary message will be reinvigorated a bit later on. Or maybe not. We'll just have to wait and see. But it is fair to say that his recent changes have tempered my enthusiasm.

Obama Tacks Away From His Left-Wing Base

For Obama, a Pragmatist's Shift Toward the Center

Obama is Shifting Toward the Center

Memo to Obama: Moving to the Middle is for Losers

The Obama Agenda

Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol

Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama

Smile! More and More, You're On Camera